Murphy criticises RTÉ arts coverage


RTÉ has defended its broadcast of the Masterpiece: Ireland’s Favourite Painting programme following criticism from its presenter Mike Murphy.

In a letter to The Irish Times, Murphy took the unusual step of publicly criticising RTÉ for the programme broadcast on April 17th.

He expressed “incredulity” that the campaign to find Ireland’s favourite painting merited just one hour long programme instead of a series of half hour programmes.

He likened the 10.15pm transmission slot to a “Cromwellian edict of arts programming being banished into the Connacht of broadcasting, ie, at, or past most people’s bedtime”. Murphy described the programme as a “huge opportunity missed”.

In response RTÉ said it was “simply inaccurate” to suggest it did not treat the arts fairly and said it was one of only a handful of public sector broadcasters to show weekly arts programmes at peak times.

Murphy said he had proposed there should be 10 documentaries of 30 minutes duration showcasing the best work in Ireland’s galleries to engage the public in the visual arts.

RTÉ responded by saying his proposal might not have worked and the plan was to make it attractive for audiences across all media platforms. In a statement, RTÉ said over 42,000 people had visited the programme's website. 

“It is working. We are getting unsolicited letters from people saying how much they’re enjoying it and the internet is alight with debates about which painting to vote for,”  RTÉ said in the statement.

RTÉ pointed out that, along with the programme, the 10 different paintings involved are being discussed on television on The Works show, and on radio with Today with Pat Kenny, Sunday Miscellany and Arena.

RTÉ also defended the 10.15pm slot describing it as a prime time slot with the same audience as at 7pm.

Murphy maintained the 10.15pm scheduling was typical of where arts appears in RTÉ’s schedule, noting the weekly arts programme The Works does not go out until 11.10pm on Thursday night.

“I really see no harm in pointing this out,” Murphy said. “What I’m arguing for is a re-evaluation of the scheduling of arts programming. I do believe the Irish public is sufficiently interested and educated to be able to accept arts programmes during premier hours of broadcasting."

He maintained RTÉ was “big enough, strong enough and bold enough” to take his criticism over the programme.

Murphy said his own presentation of the Arts Show on RTÉ Radio 1, which he hosted for 12 years, was meant to dispel any sense of favouritism about the visual arts and it was broadcast at 3.30pm.

Despite his criticisms, Murphy is also hopeful RTÉ will commission a programme about 20th century Irish art, with him as presenter.

A shortlist of 10 works has been was chosen by art experts and the public through the Pat Kenny Show.

Members of the public can vote for their favourite piece online at

The winner will be announced by President Michael D Higgins on May 24th.

The shortlist is: Communicating with Prisoners, Jack B. Yeats (The Model, Sligo); Hellelil and Hildebrand, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, Frederic Wiliam Burton (National Gallery); A Family, Louis Le Brocquy (National Gallery); Lady Writing a Letter, Johannes Vermeer (National Gallery); The Eve of Saint Agnes, Harry Clarke (Hugh Lane/Crawford); The Artist’s Studio, Sir John Lavery (National Gallery, Ulster Museum); A Convent Garden, Brittany William John Leech (National Gallery); Wall of Light Orange Yellow, Sean Scully (Hugh Lane); A Connemara Village, Paul Henry (National Gallery/Connemara); The Taking of Christ, Caravaggio (National Gallery).